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Small Investors Creating a Giant Pool of Money To Keep NYC Affordable

By Amy Zimmer | July 24, 2017 3:33pm
 The NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative launched in 2015 and plans to select at least one project to invest in this year to create something permanently affordable.
The NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative launched in 2015 and plans to select at least one project to invest in this year to create something permanently affordable.
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NYC REIC

BROOKLYN — As New Yorkers grow increasingly fed up with the loss of small businesses, cultural organizations and neighbors because of high rents, momentum is building for a scrappy real estate venture aimed at providing affordable options.

The NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative (REIC,) a grassroot effort that has grown to 400 members since it was founded in 2015, is pooling its money to invest in real estate that preserves, restores or somehow enhances spaces for the city’s cultural, community and small business uses.

But first, the REIC — which only has $3,000 so far but pledges exceeding $1 million  — has to come up with a short list of projects.

Members will vote on projects they want to invest in, with the aim of selecting projects that have the mutual benefit for the member-owners as well as for stabilizing communities in the city, with the goal of financing at least one permanently affordable commercial property by the end of this year.

 The NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative launched in 2015 and plans to select at least one project to invest in this year to create something permanently affordable.
The NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative launched in 2015 and plans to select at least one project to invest in this year to create something permanently affordable.
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NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative

To do that, the volunteer-run organization plans to hold a meeting on Tuesday evening at the Brooklyn Public Library’s central branch at Grand Army Plaza, inviting groups from around the city to share projects they are organizing around. The group expects to vote on selected projects this Fall.

“It’s been a process of building the capacity to do what we want to do,” said Mara Dawn Kravitz, who is on the REIC’s steering committee and also is the director of partnerships at 596 Acres, a land access group providing technical assistance to the co-op. “It’s about allowing people to participate in decisions about land in their neighborhoods, to be able to steward more places in their neighborhood, and to insure they serve the needs of the neighborhood in the long run.”

So far, three groups have signed up to speak, and the group plans to open the floor to solicit more ideas for the co-op’s “possibilities project bank,” Kravitz said.

Members from Inwood Preservation plan to trek out from Northern Manhattan to discuss the work they are doing around the Inwood Public Library, which the city plans to redevelop into housing and a new library. The Inwood group is pushing for the library's land to become part of a community land trust, which is a nonprofit, governed by a board of residents and community members, dedicated to ensuring what’s on the land remains permanently affordable. The group is mulling whether to submit a proposal to build the library for the city, Kravitz noted.

The other two groups are from Brownsville.

The Brownsville Cultural Coalition will share the work they are doing to save Our Lady of Loreto church. The Catholic Charities of Brooklyn & Queens, which leases the land from the Brooklyn diocese, wants to demolish the 1908 church on the border of Brownsville and Ocean Hill to make way for affordable housing. The cultural group hoped the housing could be built on adjacent lots while the church could be used as a community and cultural center.

The group that runs the Green Valley Community Farm in Brownsville will talk about their work and vision to turn abandoned properties in the area into a community center and perhaps a place to grow produce year round.

“Each group has a different story and a different pathway [into ownership],” Kravitz explained.

The REIC has banked more than $3,000 at the Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union, and received pledges of more than $1.3 million for future investments, according to its website.

The group has guiding principals for its investments. For instance, projects should benefit populations “that have traditionally had barriers to accessing stable places to assemble and/or do their work,” the website stated.

Also, the property and proposal must be financially sound so it will be able to pay members back. The group aims to minimize risk that it’s taking with their money.

Each project will have its own offering plan with expected returns and time frames, and members can vote on projects, but not invest in them, Kravitz explained.

As the group moves into its next phase of development, it is seeking to elect its first board of directors in September.

“We put people, not developers, in charge of land,” the REIC said on its website. “A lot of coordination is needed to accomplish our mission, and electing a small group of us to take the lead on this time-consuming work helps us accomplish our goals. Think of it as circular accountability: our Board keeps us accountable to our goals, and we keep the Board accountable to the membership!”

The NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative meeting will take place Tuesday, July 25 at the Brooklyn Public Library’s central branch, 10 Grand Army Plaza, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.